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Benson appoints new elections head to replace outgoing director

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has elevated her legal policy director to become Michigan's next elections director. 

Jonathan Brater

Jonathan Brater will replace Director Sally Williams when she retires at the end of the year, Benson said in a Monday statement.

He is also the former counsel the Brennan Center for Justice's Democracy Program, a liberal group at New York University. At the Brennan Center, he focused on “modernizing elections in partnership with secretaries of state around the country,” Benson’s office said.

Brater, the department’s legal policy director, has worked alongside Williams since Benson, a Democrat, appointed him early this year. He is former executive editor of the University of Michigan’s Michigan Law Review. 

“His deep expertise of elections practice nationally and in Michigan will be of tremendous benefit to the state,” Benson said in a statement. 

Brater was selected to take Williams’ position during a three-day open application process shortly after Williams announced her retirement nearly two weeks ago. The state received eight applications for the position.

As elections director, Brater will oversee all activities governed by Michigan election law, including the Campaign Finance Act, the Lobby Registration Act and the Casino Interest Registration Act.

The state Elections Department did an audit of 136 Detroit precincts in the 2016 presidential election and found 216 questionable votes — producing a net over-vote of 40 ballots — that it blamed on "an abundance of human error," not fraud. A separate statewide review by the Elections Department also found 31 Michiganians appeared to vote twice — once by absentee ballot and once in person on Election Day.

Williams worked for the Department of State for more than 30 years, two as director of elections. She replaced Chris Thomas, who served as elections director for 36 years. 

“Jonathan has worked with us tirelessly to ensure Michigan’s elections are executed effectively and without bias,” Williams said in a statement. “He will have a great team of similarly dedicated employees, and I know he will be an excellent elections director.”

Brater of Ann Arbor will begin Jan. 2 as elections director. He said he was “humbled by the opportunity” in a statement Monday. 

“I have spent my career seeking to strengthen democracy for all people, and I will continue that work for the people of Michigan,” Brater said.